Onboarding an Organization to Agile Practices with the Agile Fluency Game

Photo by Allison Pollard

Photo by Allison Pollard

I have seen great results in using a board game to onboard teams, leaders, and even new agile coaches to agile practices. Running the Agile Fluency Game™ with teams and managers has enabled clearer understanding of new ways of working and sparked rich conversations about adopting new agile practices.

Recently I’ve been working in an organization undergoing an “Agile 2.0 transformation”—they’ve had Scrum teams for a long time and are seeking the next level of agility. By learning and adopting DevOps, Extreme Programming, and lean product management practices, teams can achieve the release at will capabilities that the organization desires. A few teams have transformed already, and I’ve witnessed as an agile coach how overwhelming it can be for teams at first with so much to learn.

To help educate teams and reduce anxiety about new practices, I’ve facilitated the Agile Fluency Game with teams right before they start working with an agile coach. Playing the game creates clarity and insight on what the team might learn from the coach and the benefits of new practices. One team’s members had a wide range of agile experience—from folks who were brand new to agile all the way to seasoned practitioners who had been in high performing XP teams. Playing the game as a team, they read the agile practice cards, asked questions, and made tradeoff decisions about where to invest their effort. They learned from one another about agile ways of working and what they each value when it comes to quality, communication, and delighting customers. The team bonded as they played and realized there will be a cost to learning in their work; they gained confidence in how they will handle real-life tradeoff conversations as a team.

In another case, a group of IT managers played the game as a team, and we ran longer than scheduled because the game was going so well. They achieved the highest score I’ve seen yet! After celebrating their wise decisions and “win,” they wished that their leadership would play the game. Conversation centered around the challenges their teams face—right away the managers recognized the differences between the greenfield starting point of the game versus the legacy code and maintenance their teams encounter today. They noted how different the game would be if it started with a setup closer to their teams’ current reality—and agreed that their decisions about which practices to focus on and when would be quite different.

Initially I ran the game with a group of new internal agile coaches. They lost their first game quickly. Surprise! Balancing agile practices and feature delivery was harder than they thought. Their agile experience hadn’t yet exposed them to many of the technical and quality practices. Playing the game a second time allowed them to better comprehend the connections between the practices and see how they can work together. I gained a lot as their agile coach-mentor in observing how they interacted with one another and facilitating the game debrief conversations. We found a meaningful shared experience and model that we could reference in coaching discussions.

After facilitating the Agile Fluency Game with so many different groups, I’ve grown to appreciate how agile beginners and seasoned practitioners alike feel better prepared to engage with an agile coach and learn new ways of working after 90 minutes of fun and discussion. Onboarding an organization to agile through a board game—it’s like magic.

Agile Fluency is a trademark of James Shore and Diana Larsen

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.